In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present. Book Bonus Beat: The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music.
The pop charts never make any sense, and that’s why I love them. Vast corporate machines are built around the need to control public tastes, to direct consumers toward particular products. Sometimes, those machines do their jobs. Just as often, though, the people of America reject those products and go for some random-ass shit instead. That random-ass shit can be good or bad; it almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that the random-ass shit keeps things interesting.
In the fall of 2010, titans were running rampant on the Hot 100. Some of those titans — Usher, Eminem, Pink, Rihanna — were fully established. Others — Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars — were fairly new to the scene, but history would reveal them to be important, dominant figures. For three weeks, though, those towering figures all lost out to a purely ridiculous little dance-rap earworm dedicated to the pleasures of getting sloppy drunk and to an airplane that did not yet exist. I’m into that. That’s fun.
We should talk about the G6. There is such a thing as a G6 now. Gulfstream introduced the twin-engine jet known as the G600 years after the success of “Like A G6”; the plane took its first flight in 2016. Gulfstream had already introduced the G500, so there’s a good chance that the G600 would’ve come along anyway. But it’s possible that “Like A G6” had something to do with the introduction of that plane. So maybe “Like A G6” had a bigger impact on aviation than on pop music.
The phrase “Like A G6” does not originate with Far East Movement, the Asian-American group from Los Angeles who took it to the top of the Hot 100. Instead, that line came from the Cataracs, a production duo from Berkeley, and from the singer Dev, their protege. The Cataracs started in 2003, when high school friends David Benjamin Singer-Vine and Niles Hollowell-Dhar started making tracks together. The Cataracs started putting out independent records, and they produced “Blueberry Afghani,” a track for Berkeley rap group the Pack, that helped them build up some local momentum. (The Pack’s only Hot 100 hit, 2006’s “Vans,” peaked at #58.)
In 2009, the Cataracs discovered a singer named Devin Star Tailes on MySpace. Tailes, who went by the name Dev, came from the California city of Manteca. Dev was in college at the time, and she’d posted two songs on her MySpace page: a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” and “Blonde Trick,” a sort of whispered-not-rapped diss track about the girl who was dating her ex-boyfriend. The Cataracs thought that “Blonde Trick” showed potential, and they invited Dev to work with them.
Through their connection to the Pack, the Cataracs got themselves a deal with Universal, and they released “Club Love,” their first proper single, in 2009. The duo might’ve been rap-adjacent, and they at least attempted to rap on their own tracks. But they were much more plugged-in with the electro-house that was starting to take over the pop charts. That dance-rap style had been a big thing at hipster club nights, but it really became a pop-chart force when the Black Eyed Peas adapted it. I have to imagine that some executive offered the Cataracs a contract after seeing the kind of numbers that “Boom Boom Pow” was doing.
One day, Dev and the Cataracs recorded a track called “Booty Bounce” together. It’s pretty typical of that era’s quasi-ironic club-rap. Dev is not a white girl, but she rapped in the same clumsy-bored white-girl style that probably originated with Uffie, the Miami-born vocalist who was briefly a big deal in the French house scene. That style became hugely lucrative in 2010, when Kesha’s “Tik Tok” became the first #1 hit of the new decade.
“Booty Bounce” is not a great song — none of those early Cataracs tracks are — but there’s a memorable bit on the bridge, where Dev chants about sipping sizzurp in the ride like Three 6. That’s a reference to “Sippin’ On Some Syrup,” the 2000 single from Memphis underground rap greats Three 6 Mafia. The Three 6 song is an ode to the codeine cough-syrup concoction known as lean, which hadn’t yet become a massively popular drug in the rap world.
Lean was a Texas thing, but Three 6 were early adapters. In 2000, lean claimed the life of DJ Screw, the Houston legend who’s largely credited with popularizing it. In 2007, the drug also killed Pimp C, the UGK rapper who had the best verse on “Sippin’ On Some Syrup.” The Three 6 single was only a minor hit on rap radio, and it never made the Hot 100. But for the kids who went to hipster club nights, “Sippin’ On Some Syrup” was a huge song. I was one of those kids, and I still love that track. (Three 6 Mafia’s highest-charting single, 2015’s “Stay Fly,” peaked at #13. As a guest-rapper, Three 6 member Juicy J will eventually appear in this column.)
Dev’s “Booty Bounce” does not sound like the work of people who are sippin’ on some sizzurp like Three 6. Lean is a depressant, and DJ Screw’s great discovery was he could slow music to a psychedelic crawl and that it would sound amazing when you were drinking lean. “Booty Bounce” is the opposite. It’s fast and bright and jacked-up. It’s cocaine/MDMA music. It might be alcohol music, too. But Dev and the Cataracs, who wrote the track together, apparently really wanted to get that line in there — so much that they forced the reference to a nonexistent airplane.
On his 2009 posse cut “Forever,” Drake bragged that he knew G4 pilots on a first-name basis. (“Forever” peaked at #8. It’s a 6. Drake will soon make his first appearance in this column.) The G4 was a real thing; Drake was talking about the Gulfstream IV, which had been around since the ’80s. Dev and the Cataracs thought that sounded cool, and they needed something that rhymed with “Three Six,” so they went ahead and invented a whole new plane. In 2010, Far East Movement member Kev Nish, who did not write the line about feeling so fly like a G6, told MTV, “A G6 is not a Gatorade flavor. It’s not a car, convertible, four-door. It’s not a watch. But Drake talks about having G4 pilots on deck, so we said, ‘What’s flyer than a G4?’ Of course, it would be a G6.” Sure. Makes sense.
Here’s where Far East Movement join the story. The group’s three rappers — Kev Nish, Prohgress, and J-Splif — all grew up in downtown Los Angeles, and they were high school friends. They started rapping together in 2003. Eventually, DJ Virman, a DJ for the LA rap radio station Power 106, joined the group. At first, they called themselves Emcees Anonymous, but they changed it to Far East Movement as a way of embracing their Asian-American heritage. (The members of Far East Movement all have different ethnic backgrounds: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Filipino.) Far East Movement started performing at Koreatown clubs, and they released their first mixtape in 2005. A year later, their song “Round Round” showed up on the soundtrack of The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, and that gave them their first taste of mainstream success.
In 2008, shortly after DJ Virman joined the group, Far East Movement did some truly silly Auto-Tuned sing-rapping over a sample of the Cure’s “Lovesong” on their track “Lowridin’.” (“Lovesong” peaked at #2 in 1989. It’s a 9.) Later on, that song got a remix without the Cure sample but with a verse from Wiz Khalifa, an artist who will eventually appear in this column. The group included that song on their independent album Animal, which had some production from the not-yet-famous Bruno Mars and his production crew the Smeezingtons, and it earned Far East Movement some buzz. Far East Movement tracks started popping up in TV shows, and they signed with the Interscope imprint Cherrytree.
Since Cherrytree is under the Universal imprint, Far East Movement went into the studio with fellow Universal group the Cataracs. When they came up with the beat for the song that would become “Like A G6,” the Cataracs had the idea of using Dev’s bridge from “Booty Bounce” as the hook. Somehow, that decision worked way better than anything else that any of the people involved in “Like A G6” ever did. On “Like A G6,” the Cataracs came up with a brain-destroying synth-bloop riff, and that riff, combined with Dev’s expressionless chanting, became weirdly hypnotic. Once that hook was in place, it almost didn’t matter what Far East Movement did on the track.
That’s good, since the members of Far East Movement simply can’t rap. Far East Movement and the Cataracs both rap on “Like A G6,” and since nobody has a halfway distinctive style and everyone lip-syncs everyone else’s parts in the video, I have no idea who says what. I do know that the rapping on “Like A G6” is extremely clumsy and goofy. “Like A G6” is a song about partying, and the verses verge on gibberish: “Get them bottles poppin’, we get that drip and that drop/ Now give me two more bottles ’cause you know it don’t stop.” It’s amateurish as fuck, to the point where it’s almost charming.
Work with me here. You know how the ’60s garage-punk bands all wanted to be the Rolling Stones? None of them could do it, but a lot of them made music that was great in its own way — sloppy and fired-up and raw. So I guess what I’m saying is that “Like A G6” is the garage-punk take on the Black Eyed Peas. Now: as far as I can tell, the Black Eyed Peas are not the Rolling Stones, and Far East Movement would not really work on one of the Nuggets compilations. But I like how slapdash the whole thing is. It’s a good time.
It’s mostly the beat and the hook. Those two things get extremely stuck in my head, to the point where I need to just play the song every once in a while to keep all my levels even. All the weird effects on the vocals make the track sound chaotic and disorienting in a way that I find pleasing. “Like A G6” is a track about being falling-down drunk, and the track itself sounds like it’s falling-down drunk.
When one of the guys on the track chants about “sober girls around me, they be actin’ like they drunk,” that gets my mind working. Like: Do you want sober girls around you to be actin’ like they drunk? Also, the guy who yells “hell yeah” does a great job. That’s a good “hell yeah.” When I’m listening to a song about partying, I want to be able to yell the phrase “hell yeah” along with the song. I guess I’m just a simple man. If you’re making a song about partying, treat me like I’m Stone Cold Steve Austin and gimme a “hell yeah.”
The “Like A G6” video is a fun glimpse into Koreatown nightlife. The guys in Far East Movement come off vaguely obnoxious, with their bright-plastic sunglasses and their shiny suit jackets. But if I was drinking right, getting slizzard, I bet I’d have a good time with them. At the end of the video, the members of the group board a G4 jet, and one of them wears an astronaut helmet, which reinforces the idea that these guys don’t know how planes work.
The “Like A G6” single went quadruple platinum, and it made Far East Movement the first Asian-American group ever to top the Hot 100. The song was always going to be a cultural blip, but everyone involved in the track tried to keep the momentum going. Far East Movement released their major-label debut Free Wired a couple of weeks before “Like A G6” reached #1, and it included a couple of tracks that were co-written by the newly famous Bruno Mars, the guy who Far East Movement knocked out of the #1 spot, and produced by the Smeezingtons. One of those tracks was the follow-up single. “Rocketeer” had a hook from OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, who’s already been in this column as a songwriter and producer, and that song became Far East Movement’s second and final top-10 hit. (“Rocketeer” peaked at #7. It’s a 3.)
After “Like A G6” fell out of the #1 spot, Dev released her own debut single, the Cataracs collab “Bass Down Low,” which sounded a whole lot like “Like A G6” and which peaked at #61. The Cataracs produced all of Dev’s debut album The Night the Sun Came Up, which came out in 2011 and had one pretty big hit. (The Kesha-esque “In The Dark” peaked at #11.) But the Far East Movement and Dev albums didn’t sell. The Cataracs released a few singles of their own, and they didn’t even chart. David Benjamin Singer-Vine left the Cataracs in 2011, and Niles Hollowell-Dhar started making solo dance tracks under the name Kshmr. As a DJ, he’s been pretty successful.
Far East Movement had a few more random successes. In 2012, the group appeared on “Get Up (Rattle),” a track from a Dutch dance duo with the ridiculous name Bingo Players, and that song somehow went all the way to #1 in the UK. That same year, Far East Movement also released their follow-up album Dirty Bass, and they got Justin Bieber to sing on the single “Live My Life,” which is probably the reason that the single made it to #21. (Bieber will be in this column a bunch of times.) Far East Movement haven’t been back on the Hot 100 since then.
Far East Movement kept recording after their brief chart moment, and they’re still together today. Identity, the group’s last album, came out back in 2016, and they’re now a trio after the departure of J-Splif, but they’re still putting out tracks. That means Far East Movement have had a 20-year run. “Like A G6” was a brief little fluke in that run, and it was pretty typical of that moment’s thumping party tracks. But I generally like thumping party tracks, and I generally think that “Like A G6” is a pretty endearing example of the form. It’s not a classic, but if I’m popping bottles on ice like a blizzard, it’ll do just fine.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Like A G6” soundtracking some byzantine moments of conspiracy and betrayal on a 2010 episode of Gossip Girl:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s former Number Ones artist T-Pain singing euphorically over the “Like A G6” beat on his 2011 “T-Mix” of the track:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Diddy, an artist who’s been in this column a bunch of times, covering “Like A G6” with his pretty-great short-lived electro-pop group Diddy-Dirty Money during a 2011 visit to the BBC Live Lounge:
(Diddy-Dirty Money’s highest-charting single, the 2010 Skylar Grey collab “Coming Home,” peaked at #11.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: The metalcore band Pierce The Veil used to cover “Like A G6” at every live show, and the fan footage of them playing it at a 2011 gig in Boston honestly looks pretty fun. Here it is:
THE 10S: “Back To December,” Taylor Swift’s ecstatically bummed-out hymn of Taylor Lautner-related regret, peaked at #6 behind “Like A G6.” I go back to this song all the time. It’s a 10.
The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now via Hachette Books. Yeeeeah, buy it up, buy buy buy it up.